In 2004, a developer by the name of Toshimitsu Takagi uploaded a cryptic flash game which took the Internet community by storm. The Crimson Room since went on to become a classic of early Internet Flash games, specifically in the "Escape the Room" genre. Although The Crimson Room: Decade could be considered a direct sequel, Decade bares many similarities to its predecessor.
You can buy the game on Steam for $9.99.
You are Jean-Jaques Gordot, a French investigator about the ship La Crimson, and you are here to retrace your ancestor, François Gordot's, footsteps as he journeyed from Paris to Japan. Bits and pieces of information are conveyed to the player, primarily from the opening cutscenes, but also by finding hidden scraps of paper. These scraps contain anything from journal entries to personal letters, all of which disclose exclusive details on what really happened on La Crimson. After gathering a handful of these notes, it becomes clear that something mysterious and possibly supernatural is at work. Allegations of Soviet ties and sabotage are alluded to frequently, but unfortunately, these information bits provide little more than a backdrop. Nothing from these stories is used to augment the gameplay. In fact, I doubt most players would notice if the letters were removed from the game entirely.
The Crimson Room: Decade faces players with an updated version of the classic escape-the-room puzzle. Every inch of the small space must be carefully examined in order to succeed. Thinking creatively is the name of the game, as finding unconventional uses for the objects found in the room is an absolute must. However, sometimes the purpose of an object can be so obscure that discovering it may often boil down to clicking on everything in sight. This, coupled with some spotty interaction hotspots, makes certain parts of the game very frustrating. For example, one part of the game requires players to cut off a piece of cloth from the curtains, but only one point can actually be cut, despite the entire curtain being labeled as a hotspot. This left me clicking madly around the room until I happened to find the right spot by chance.
Since we've been locked in the same room as the previous game, the basic layout is the same. There's a window with a ratty curtain, a dilapidated bed, and an old dresser. That said, a few new objects have been added, including a safe and a calendar. The returning cast of objects functions in much the same way as in the original, but the biggest twist is the hidden compartment in the back wall.
By uncovering a not-so-secret panel on the wall, players gain access to a bizarre machine with countless gears and two keyholes. Once the keys have been found, each key will rotate the entire room, exposing new areas of the room for exploration, but also scrambling all the player's collected objects. Rediscovering all the objects becomes the main theme, as the tools find new uses.
One of Decade's biggest problems stems from its lack of direction. The overall goal of escape remains abundantly clear, but the finer details of how to achieve that goal often become obscured. For example, players will find a portable record player, but its battery is needed for another purpose. The battery door is sealed with a simple screw, but there is no screwdriver present in the room. I tried everything I could think of, including using an army knife blade to pry it open. Turns out, the bottle cap opener is the only thing which opens the screw. The moral of this story is that not all the objective cues are clear, and if you can't figure it out, the game provides nothing to help you out.
Unfortunately, the game's ending was by far the biggest disappointment. Decade hints at supernatural events over the course of the experience, but never fully fleshes out the story, as mentioned above. The ending raises more questions about the true nature of the Crimson Room and La Crimson when the game starts a bizarre cutscene and abruptly rolls the credits.
This current game handles quite differently to its predecessor. Whereas the original used a series of fixed camera angles, Decade allows for a full range of movement. This provides a much greater sense of freedom to explore every nook and cranny of the room, something which players will definitely need and want to do. This is a definite improvement over the original, which often felt cumbersome. Should the controls feel uncomfortable, feel free to adjust the mouse sensitivity and smoothness, as the default settings feel a bit awkward. Enabling the "smooth mouse control" is especially recommended, since otherwise, the mouse can be a bit jumpy.
However, interacting with the environment can be a little frustrating. A hand symbol appears whenever the player places the cursor above an active object, but the active zones can be quite small compared to the object's actual size. This means players may have to spend a relatively large amount of time looking directly at an object without being able to actually interact with it.
Unfortunately, Decade's graphical performance failed to impress me. For a game which centers its gameplay around exploration and careful scrutiny of a small environment, I expected higher resolution graphics. The game's textures are often blurry or pixelated, especially when viewed at close range, which the player is often forced to do. Random poorly textured parts of the room and objects often caught my attention, as I thought they were something with which I could interact. Although the original Flash game's graphics were more primitive, they are arguably more effective.
Decade also features three different lighting settings, though the darkest setting is the default. Depending on the monitor being used to display the game, certain key gameplay elements may not be visible. Finding the correct setting is crucial, though it may be difficult to tell if the setting the player is currently using is correct because most of the game will work, except for a few important aspects.
Most of Decade's sound comes from the ambient noises of the environment. The eerie silence greatly contributed the overall creepy vibe of the game, especially when all the player can hear is the sound of your own footsteps and occasional thunderclaps. That said, the music is a completely different story. The synthesized orchestral music of the closing cutscene provides a perfect example of why either hiring real musicians or investing in a high-quality sampler is important. What should have been a triumphant moment of escape was marred by the ugly musical performance.
As with most puzzle games, this game doesn't have much replayability. Once you learn where each object lies, there's nothing stopping you from finding it immediately. If you know where to look, completing this game can take as little as ten minutes.
The Crimson Room: Decade takes players back in time to a different game of gaming. Revisiting the old location with the extra goodies and twists is fun, but ultimately not enough to excuse its flaws. The story has tons of potential to be gripping but ends up feeling empty, and the graphical and visual performances are lacking. Plus, the design choices may leave players scratching their heads. Unless you're a hardcore escape-the-room fan or fell in love with the original, it might be best to pass this one up.
|+ Classic example of the genre||– Story is difficult to follow and carries little weight|
|+ Fun new elements add surprises to familiar gameplay||– Poor graphical presentation|
|+ Improved controls from original||– Sub-par music|
|– Inconsistent interactive zones|
|– Lack of direction is punishing|
|– Disappointing ending|